Center for Global Food Security

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Climate Mitigation Policies and Food Security

Land using sectors (agriculture and forestry) are collectively responsible for nearly one third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but they also provide a commensurately large share of the globe’s GHG mitigation potential (McKinsey & Co. 2009; IPCC 2007). Mitigation measures in the forestry sector are estimated to contribute between half (IPCC 2007) to two-thirds (McKinsey & Co. 2009) of this potential, mostly through avoided deforestation, with the remainder achievable through measures in agriculture. Despite empirical support for their high potential and affordability, the limited range of mitigation policies observed in practice mostly exclude land-based mitigation,[1] particularly in agriculture.

Possible reasons for this neglect include measurement and verification difficulties, which stem from the diffuseness of most land-based emission sources and complex ecological processes governing their emissions fluxes, especially in agriculture. Further, a large majority of land-based mitigation potential is located in developing countries where relatively weak environmental governance, institutional, financial and technical capacity, constrain the implementation and enforcement of mitigation policies. Land-based mitigation measures have also attracted additional scrutiny from policy makers with concerns about their potential to jeopardize food security and agricultural growth in developing countries. Nevertheless, the substantial land-based mitigation potential should, in the long run, provide sufficient motivation to overcome these obstacles.

International mitigation arrangements under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change bypass the equity concerns surrounding developing country mitigation by according all mitigation obligations to developed (or Annex I) countries. However, the effectiveness of this politically accommodating approach is likely to be compromised by emissions leakage; as international commodity trade will cause agricultural carbon constraints in Annex I countries to be partially offset by greater agricultural production and emissions in non-Annex I countries.

This study assesses the effectiveness of global mitigation polices that are broadly aligned with the different responsibilities of developed and developing countries under the UNFCCC, and examines emission leakage effects as well as impacts on food security in developing countries. An economic model that incorporates emissions and mitigation opportunities from all sectors in the global economy, with explicit spatial representation of competing land uses, is employed for this purpose.

For more information about this project:
Tom Hertel:
Alla Golub: